There are certain things magic can’t do—or at least that faeries don’t think it’s worth wasting magical energy on when it’s simpler to do it by hand. It turns out rearranging furniture is one of those things.
I give the wooden side table a little shove and step back to eye its position relative to the rest of the furnishings in the grand living room. When we moved into the castle two days ago, my fae companions banished the vines that had crept through the windows and whisked the dust from the floors with a few powerful words. Using the true name for the wood that makes up the entire building, which from the outside looks like several massive trees sculpted together into a towering fortress, they healed the cracks and the spots of rot that formed over decades of disuse.
The existing furniture has either been mended or replaced the same way. But now we’re fitting in the bits and pieces we brought with us around them, which means I can finally actually help.
I’m the only human living with this pack of wolf-shifting fae, and while they’ve mostly welcomed me, it’s pretty hard to forget that fact.
August comes up beside me, hefting a silver-framed mirror in his brawny arms. “That does look like a good spot for the table. And I think the table is the perfect spot for this.” He sets the mirror on the tabletop so it leans against the wall and brushes his hands together with a satisfied air.
Interior design isn’t August’s typical line of work. As half-brother to Sylas, the lord of this domain, and part of Sylas’s cadre, his main job is protecting the pack and leading the warriors into battle if need be. But thankfully he hasn’t needed to do a lot of that in the two months since I joined them.
Of course, tomorrow that might change. And just like the few times he has needed to fight in the past couple of months, it’ll be mostly because of me.
That knowledge hangs over all of us, but I’m trying to put on a brave face. I hate how vulnerable I feel compared to the nearly immortal, magically skilled beings around me. I hate how vulnerable caring about me makes them. The least I can do is act as if I believe they can get us through the conflict ahead okay, as impossible as that might seem.
“It looks great,” I say to August with a smile, and turn to survey the rest of the room. Sofas and armchairs, their surfaces woven out of soft reeds and leaves, form two semi-circles facing the vast hearth that reflects the domain’s name: Hearthshire. By the embedded stones that frame the hearth, a couple of pack members are just finishing arranging a set of fireplace tools—made out of bronze, since iron is toxic to the fae. At the far end of the room, a few others are arguing about the exact placement of a hanging tapestry. I’m not sure what else there is for me to do.
August is always quick to pick up on my moods. He wraps his arms around me from behind and presses a kiss to the top of my head. “You’ve pitched in plenty, Sweetness. You don’t need to look for more work.”
“Everyone else is still working,” I point out, but I can’t help leaning into his broad chest, letting his affectionate warmth reassure me.
Out of everyone here, August cares about me the most. Over the weeks I’ve spent with them, my feelings for Sylas and both members of his cadre have deepened from wary appreciation to tentative attraction to what I can only call love. I never expected any of them to offer that much devotion in return, considering they’re not just fae but fae of high standing and I’m a mere human, but August has expressed his love in both words and actions so emphatically that just thinking about it makes me giddy.
“I’m sure you could find a few of our pack-kin slacking off if you looked.” He nuzzles my hair with a chuckle and gives me a gentle nudge toward the doorway. “Why don’t you take some time just to explore? The rest of us already know the domain pretty well. You should start settling in, get comfortable with the new surroundings.”
He talks as if he’s sure I’ll be returning here after tomorrow’s meeting. I drag in a breath and nod. “All right. You make a convincing argument.”
He laughs and waves me off, but I feel him watching me, making sure I’m okay, until I’ve limped into the hall.
On the way to the entrance room with its looming front door, a rhythmic tapping marks my uneven steps. The brace Sylas built for my warped foot helps me walk more steadily, but it is a bit noisy. And my foot still starts to ache if I’m on it for very long. None of my current companions has the magic to fix the warped ridge where my former captors broke the bones and let them heal wrong—it seems like that’s one of those few things magic can’t do at all. I’m a lot better off than before, when I couldn’t do much more than hobble, though.
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